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Return of the Bobbies

By Terry Joseph
March 24, 2006


Modern media does wonders for organisations of intrinsic integrity, highlighting their success stories and by so doing enhancing their image, sometimes way beyond reality, as was the case with Scotland Yard's response to last year's wave of bombings in London.

Ancient media had already done its bit for Scotland Yard too, given the literature we encountered during high school of the 1950s and 1960s, when extra-curricular reading included the works of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the latter's late 19th century description of enthusiastic and civil constabulary, supporting Detective Sherlock Holmes, helping to entrench the bobby stereotype and then sustain it worldwide for more than 100 years thereafter.

But that was the unarmed, forever smiling neighbourhood Bobby. The version assigned to investigations of last July's terrorist attacks on London's public transportation system was of a different persuasion, packing machine pistols and other varieties of deliberately lethal hand guns, with orders to use them in such circumstances.

"If you are dealing with someone who might be a suicide bomber, if they remain conscious, they could trigger plastic explosives or whatever device is on them," advised London Mayor Ken Livingstone. "Therefore, overwhelmingly in these circumstances, it is going to be a shoot-to-kill policy." Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst and former counterterrorism officer, concluded that "the only realistic alternative is a shot to the head."

The bobbies faithfully followed the new policy, killing a terrorist suspect who failed to stop on command but it turns out that Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, the Brazilian victim of that fatal shooting at the Stockwell Tube, was the wrong man, an innocent civilian with no connection to the bombings, except for his skin tone.

Of course, like professionals in other walks of life, police make mistakes (euphemistically described in these times as "collateral damage"). Columnists make mistakes too, like my mention last week that Mr Fletcher was the sleuth who solved the murder case against Dr Dalip Singh (It was, in fact, Mr Slater). Errors are, however, less common in a shared culture.

Yardies coming to Trinidad and Tobago will not be familiar with a number of culture-oriented behaviours and perhaps not even be au courant with certain varieties of uniquely constructed obscene language, far more if Prime Minister Patrick Manning accords them a role in his latest advertised campaign of curtailing vulgarity in Carnival.

For openers, they will have to spend considerable time learning to delineate subtle differences between mauvais-langue, lackooray and "zeppo", understanding the value of each brand of lead, in order to know which tips are worth pursuing. What will they advise be done with Jouvert revellers who perennially deface walls in Federation Park? Shall we arrest everyone in blue?

You may remember their follow-up action on the O'Dowd Report, an intervention not appreciated by local police officers, as exemplified by then Commissioner Jules Bernard and subsequently by (the late) ACP Headley who, reports said, threatened visiting Yardies at gunpoint.

Public sentiment regarding the plan to infuse 39 Yardies into our police service is now at best cynical, although frustrated citizens seem eager to grasp at any move that contain even a hint of possible relief from spiraling crime. Strangely enough, when the initiative was first announced by Mr Manning in last September's Budget speech, few paid attention to possible ramifications of having the imported officers in our midst.

On September 28, 2005, Mr Manning's address to Parliament included a promise that we will all be able to once again walk the streets in safety and enjoy our homes in comfort, after the FBI and Scotland Yard established units here. Conceding a need for international assistance in the fight against crime here, he said: "high-level meetings on this matter have taken place with authorities in the United Kingdomand the Unted States."

Mr Manning even outlined the structure, saying the FBI will establish a unit to assist with the re-organisation of the (Police) Service and both agencies will assist the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT). Scotland Yard was singled out for special assistance by provision of equipment and expertise to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.

Mr Manning was not sending up a trial balloon but telegraphing firm commitment to these two foreign police agencies, soliciting their help in reducing crime. Given the way these arrangements operate, the time for protest and elaborate caution is well past, leaving us no other option but to quietly await the return of the bobbies.

Part I

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